In Conversation: DJ Premier

An audience with a hip-hop master...

“What's going on, brother?”

The voice is, unmistakably, DJ Premier. But then, Clash could forgiven for taking a moment to tune in – after all, this is an artist who has spoken with his hands for more than two decades, who has defined and re-defined on a regular basis what hip-hop production is all about.

And he’s still progressing, still moving forward. In the past few months alone DJ Premier has taken his ever-evolving live show out on the road, collaborated on the expanded edition of Joey Bada$$’ debut album and contributed to Dr. Dre’s spectacular comeback ‘Compton’.

“I've been so busy, I've been finishing an album. Finally finishing up my album, working with Joey Bada$$, then I've been working on the official DJ Premier store, all kinds of merchandise – just keeping it official,” he explains. “I've been working on a whole lot of different things. I'm on the Compton soundtrack with Dr. Dre. I've been playing around, keeping doing different things.”

Keeping things fresh seems to be the name of the game with DJ Premier. Heading into the studio with Joey Bada$$, the Brooklyn prodigy’s gleeful dissection of golden age tropes kept the producer on his heels. “100% man. Absolutely. His mom is around our age, she used to come to our shows, and he said that she put him on to so many classic hip-hop albums, so as a child he grew up listening to what his mom was listening to. She's a die-hard head from our generation – so she taught him well!”

But perhaps the biggest event in DJ Premier’s career of late is his cameo appearance on Dre’s ‘Compton’ set. The roots of the project go back to a Boiler Room set in Russia, and collaboration with BMB Spacekid – the beat found its way to Anderson Paak, sparking a new track. Premier and Anderson worked on it silently, patiently, until recent events in the United States forced their hand.

“When we got back to New York and he got back to California the whole thing with Freddie Gray happened, with the police killing him… they shot the guy in the back. And the whole riots thing kicked off. So when that kicked off in Baltimore, Anderson called me from California and said: ‘I don't like this shit going on, this is crazy. I wrote a song to that other beat, I'll send it to you.’”

Anderson then met up with Dr. Dre, who was entranced by what the two had recorded. “Dre listened to it and said: ‘man, I wanna rap on that.’ He called me and said: ‘yo, you mind if I put this out in the movie instead of leaking it out to the streets?’ I was like, absolutely. I know it'll get even more gain. He wanted me to go out and work with him on it, add a few things to it and just make it a big event. So I flew out there, worked with him and he was totally, totally fun to work with. And that's how it ended up.”

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If it's dope to me, that means it's dope.

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Of course, this is just one track amidst an arsenal of new music. Forever moving forward, DJ Premier is ever eager to stay ahead of the game. “I mean my ears are still the same as far as judgement. So whenever something comes my way, some people are like: when you get older you start liking new stuff I don't like. You're not down with the sound of the younger generation. And OK, that's great, but if it ain't dope to me, it ain't dope to me. When I'm listening to records I don't say, oh they're too old for me to like it! You like what you like.”

“So I don't put an age on anything that's musical. I'm always sure that my mind and my soul accepts or does not accept what's fed to it. You can't stop what's in the soul. You can't avoid it. If it attacks me emotionally, then it's correct. I'll either hate it or love it. I don't care if everybody hates it. I don't care if there's a million people on the planet Earth and 999,999 hated it, and only I loved it. So what? If it's dope to me, that means it's dope.”

What’s dope is hip-hop. DJ Premier came of age in the game, with some of his earliest musical memories featuring a litany of rap stars and production greats. “I've always understood hip-hop and witnessed it. I was hanging with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Newcleus, the Get Fresh Crew, Run DMC. That tour was crazy. I went to see LL Cool J and thought: this is how it is. This is how big it can get and how dope you gotta be to put it down. So I made sure that if I ever got a chance I would make sure that I would do the same thing. And I do that.”

Right now, the producer is focussing on a documentary. Legendary recording complex D&D Studios is being shut down, with DJ Premier leading the way on a new film detailing its history and impact. “They sold the building and turned it into condos and office space, so I did a documentary,” he explains. “We're almost done. We're still shooting a few things. Jay-Z did it, Nas did it, we're still working on getting Eminem in there. There's going to be a DJ Premier album called 'Last Session At 320' – that's our address. People see me in the street and go: yo, you still at 320? That's the perfect title, 'Last Session At 320'.”

Cliché aside, it seems that DJ Premier is truly living the dream. Able to work with whoever he pleases, the producer’s creative drive has kept him at the top of the game for more than 20 years with rappers half his age desperate to hook up. “I've dreamed of doing this since I was young,” he says. “I wanted to play sports and I wanted to make music. I wanted to be onstage and I wanted to have groupies coming to the dressing room. Hanging out with me in the hotel, partying, drinking and doing all the things that go along with the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. And I did that. Of course, I've levelled off now, I'm a father now, so while I'm not crazy and wild I still have a party and have a good time. Not as much as I used to, but I still make sure I put my time into and enjoy life.”

“Everyday is a party,” he says. “You just have to know how to turn off the party switch. I definitely know how to turn it off because I had a responsibility now and I'm glad that at my age of 49 that I finally put that understanding towards parenthood because I want my son to be able to understand what it takes to be me. What it takes to be a man, a human being, the right way. So all of that factors in to my life and my success. I was successful young. By the time I was 23 I already had a house, five cars, living next to Vanilla Ice in Miami. All kinds of crazy shit. We had all the fun things and we got it young. We spent our money, had a good time, made more money, had success. Totally got it.”

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DJ Premier spoke to Clash as part of Doctor's Orders 10th anniversary celebrations – details.

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